The mangroves are thick and strong; the channel between them so narrow that the oar has become redundant. With no place to dip it in the water, I use it as a prop to push against the sturdy mangrove roots and propel the kayak forward.
Between that and using my hands, I somehow manage to navigate the tapering strip of water that only seems to get narrower as we go further into the mangrove thicket.
We’re looking for monitor lizards. The croc-like reptilian carnivores that live in the mangrove thickets of the Andamans, grow up to a few feet long.
I peer into the thick branches trying to distinguish whether that bit of movement I saw was a figment of my imagination or a glimpse of the elusive lizard. The mangroves seem to absorb all sounds: Our voices are muted and so are the thumps and splashes from our oars. Reaching near the end of the channel, I decide to give up on the oar all together, holding it in my lap as I look around in the mangrove roots. Fully grown, these roots are supposed to be strong enough for a man to walk upon. These mangroves, however, are still recovering from the impact of the tsunami. Our very entry point into the channel was from a spot that had been dry, farming land before it was swamped by salt water five years ago.
- For ocean kayaking, go to Goa, Mumbai, the Andaman & Nicobar islands, Karnataka and Kerala.
- In Mumbai, kayak at Girgaum Chowpatty (H2O Water Sports — 23677546. ). The four-day initiation course costs Rs 3,500 and after that you can use the kayaks for a year at nominal charge.
- Ocean kayaking needs an understanding of tides and currents. White water kayaking is altogether different. There are expeditions available down most Indian rivers, so you can pick one that matches your abilities. Rishikesh, Kolad, Corbett National Park are good starting points.
- Once you’re experienced, you can take your kayak pretty much where you want. A kayak cost Rs 18,000 upwards (including paddle and life jacket). If you’re white water rafting, you’ll need a helmet. For details, check out www.raesport.in
Poetry in motion
Out of the thicket, into the main channel, I suddenly feel like the student driver who’s just been told she is now allowed on to the main road. Sure enough, I get drawn into the temptations of the fast lane. The only difference here is that my speed is not decided by the capabilities of my machinery, but by the strength in my arms. And there is some sort of poetry in the play of muscles as shoulders pull back the oar, and wrists work to spin it around and dip the opposite end in each time. I like the way this feels, water and mangrove rushing past as the kayak glides through the water, taking me out of the channel and into the open sea.
Each dip of the oar cuts through a reflection of green mangrove and brown roots on olive water. Ever so often, a jellyfish floats past. As we get closer to the end of the channel, to where it opens into the sea and the main port of the island, the jellyfish become more abundant. The tides and currents of the sea come into play, pulling our kayaks and the swarm of jellyfish closer to the shore. I sit absolutely straight, concentrating on keeping my balance; I definitely don’t want to topple into the water when there’s a swarm of jellyfish around.
Calm in the city
I needn’t have worried, Rajiv from Raesport tells me, as we kayak straight down the Marine Drive bay from Girgaum Chowpatty. Modern kayaks are built in such a way that you can’t topple into the water unless you try really hard he says, and starts shaking the kayak left and right to illustrate his point. I let on a yelp and stiffen up again — this time it’s not a jellyfish swarm but the murky water around Mumbai that I’m afraid of falling into. I can’t seem to let go of my belief that it is horribly toxic, though Rajiv who kayaks across the bay with his daughter every morning assures me that it is pretty clean once you get a few feet away from the shore.
After kayaking in the mangrove channels of the Andamans, this is like being let out into an open field. Freer to move, I try to kayak faster. At first, I keep veering left, until I figure out that the tide that is coming in is pushing me back to the shore. Then I start compensating for it, and as I get the rhythm right and the oar cuts the water neatly, taking me away from Mumbai’s shoreline, I can feel the city recede behind me.
Further out in the bay, Rajiv and I stop and turn to look at the city’s skyline: the noise of the city, the honks and the loud voices, have receded to a general buzz. Rajiv calls this his daily meditation. I can see why.